MANILA - While the Balikatan 2022 exercises between the Philippines and United States militaries will take place amid the South China Sea dispute, this year’s war games may also factor in another ongoing conflict—the Russia-Ukraine war, a security analyst told ABS-CBN News Monday.
Among the scenarios that could be discussed via table-top exercises during the 2-week event are what possible roles the Philippines may play should the United States take military action on Ukraine, said Dr. Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence & Terrorism Research.
Table-top exercises are discussion-based sessions that simulate roles during crisis or emergency situations.
“May mga ini-identify na areas ang Pilipinas para masabi na hanggang dito lang ang pwede nating gawin o hanggang dito lang ang pwede naming i-extend to support our ally the United States in the military campaign against Russia in Ukraine,” Banlaoi said.
As a US ally, the Philippines has participated in previous wars that the US has gone into such as the Korean War and in the past 2 decades, the incursions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although in the latter its participation had been more humanitarian than military.
However, Banlaoi said the Ukraine conflict taking place in Europe is a new “theater of operation” for the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration was marked by a “friend to all, foe to none” foreign policy, has said the country will remain neutral on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Balikatan 2022 could help the Philippines determine what specific participation it could commit as an ally should the US get involved in Ukraine.
“Evolving pa rin ‘yan kasi ‘di naplano last year. Reaction lang ‘yan because of the current developments at ngayon ay ine-explore nila ang mga possibilities kung ano ang magiging potential role ng Pilipinas lalong-lalo na magche-change ‘yong govt natin in May,” he said.
Philippine and US military officials told media during the Balikatan opening ceremony that they do not see a significant change in the security cooperation of the 2 countries in a post-Duterte administration.
“Balikatan is an example of the long-standing friendship and cooperation that we have with the Philippine government and the Philippine armed forces and I believe as far as we are concerned that will continue regardless of the election outcome,” said US exercise director Maj. Gen. Jay Bargeron.
“These are defense treaties that we have with our counterparts in the United States. Even with the change in leadership, changes in the administration, the treaties stay,” said armed forces chief Gen. Andres Centino.
“It’s important that we continue to engage with our allies…The security of our country, the security of the region is a shared responsibility.”
For Banlaoi, the Balikatan exercises underscore the perceived importance of US presence in the region to many Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines.
“We’re sharing the perspective of other countries in Asia that US presence is essential in order to counterbalance the growing military power of China,” he said.
“That is why American presence in the Philippines and in the region is really welcomed by a lot of states with a caveat that American presence in the region will not lead to American predominance, military predominance.”
For the Philippines, this iteration of the exercises also takes place after the US clarified its obligation to help defend the Philippines, not only in areas such as the Benham Rise and Sulu Sea, but also the West Philippine Sea and other military interests.
The Balikatan exercises, which will last till April 8, take place in areas of Northern Luzon, which is also near the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
The bilateral trainings will focus on enhancing the interoperability of the 2 militaries through activities such as amphibious operations, live-fire training, urban warfare and counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The Philippine armed forces added the exercises will be able to put to use newly procured military equipment and aircraft.